The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was enacted at the height of the civil rights era with the intent to bar racial discrimination and require all government entities to end segregation. Its mandate was to ensure everyone had equal access to housing regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin (NFHA, 2015). However, over the next five decades the American landscape has been largely carved into white-only and black-only enclaves with clear demarcations found in large cities such as New York, Newark, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. As a result millions of minorities have been stranded in poverty without access to the opportunities for achieving prosperity.
New Rules to Re-Activate Fair Housing Laws
In the summer or 2015, the Obama administration issued new regulations designed to put some teeth into a key section of the 1968 Fair Housing Act which has long been dormant. The new regulations apply to the section of the Act that requires the federal government to “affirmatively” further fair housing, particularly in communities deemed to be heavily segregated. The actions taken by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD.gov, 2015) followed a June 2015 Supreme Court decision that upheld a key component of the Fair Housing Act that allows the government to address “disparate impact” where racial disparities in housing access exist, even if they are not linked to discrimination.
At the center of the new rules and the Supreme Court decision is a government effort to level the playing field for racial minorities that, through decades of exclusionary zoning and racist lending, have been relegated to pockets of low-income housing with little access to good transportation, better schools and job opportunities. Although fair-housing laws have existed for nearly a half a century, federal enforcement of the laws has been lax due to bureaucratic confusion and a lack of cooperation by local governments (NFHA, 2015). The new rules will provide clarity as well as financial incentives for local governments to more actively pursue the goals of the Fair Housing Act.
Additional Tools and Incentives to Help Local Governments
The centerpiece of the new rules is a database created by HUD that will provide cities and counties with historical data that can be used to analyze segregation patterns. Areas where poor minorities are concentrated are to be identified and assessed for their access to quality community services, such as good schools and transportation. Local governments will be required to submit these analyses to HUD along with actionable plans for reducing segregation. To reduce housing segregation, the plans might have to include rezoning communities that primarily serve affluent white people to allow for affordable housing to be built (HUD.gov).
The financial incentives for local governments and housing authorities to advance the goals of the Fair Housing Act have always been there. But, there has been little direction from the federal government to help communities to develop policies and plans, or to measure their success. The new rules will provide greater clarity and guidance, beginning with the requirement for local governments to submit analyses and action plans. From this point forward, federal grants and other financial incentives will be tied to the local governments’ response to the rules.
Opportunity to Escape Poverty
The intent of the new rule, officially named, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, is to open the door to poor minorities to move to more affluent communities with better access to services and educational opportunities. Children who grow up in better neighborhood with access to better education have a much greater chance of success (HUD.gov). The AFFH is designed to provide local communities with the tools to help lift people out of poverty by providing the same access to opportunity enjoyed by everyone.
This is truly an opportunity that rings true to the philosophy of The Power Is Now, which is to act in the present to change your situation for the better. The escape of poverty begins with individuals working hard to take advantage of new legislation to achieve the American Dream. You have the power to change your life now, because The Power Is Now.
Eric Lawrence Frazier, MBA
President and CEO